Kevin Clifford, Naperville Central grind out win over Lake Park

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In order to extend its winning streak to seven games and keep the dreams of its first DuPage Valley title since 2001 alive, Naperville Central went old school Friday at Lake Park.

The Redhawks pounded out a 17-10 win by dominating both lines of scrimmage. They ran for 201 yards, with Kevin Clifford leading the way with 166 bruising yards on 32 carries. Central’s defense limited Lake Park to 184 yards of total offense.

“With our defense, I really like our chances,” Clifford said. “It’s nice knowing that we’re going to go as far as our offense plays because our defense is playing so great. I loved the way we played. It’s great to come into their place and get the job done.”

Central (7-1, 4-0) set the tone early and often. The Redhawks didn’t even complete a pass in the first half, and only Clifford and junior quarterback Conor Joyce carried the ball. Central took a 7-3 lead into the half on an 8-yard TD run from Clifford.

Lake Park (5-3, 2-2) got a 25-yard field goal from Cameron Van Aswegen.

It was much of the same in the second half for the Redhawks. They shook off a turnover on the third play of the half by marching 69 yards on 13 plays on their next drive, which was capped off by a 1-yard TD run from Joyce.

Connor Assalley’s 37-yard field goal with five seconds left in the third pushed the lead to 17-3.

“I really put a lot of blame on me and the offense because if you give Clifford that many opportunities behind that line, he’s going to get his yards,” Lake Park coach Chris Roll said. “Our kids did a good job, but we had three three-and-outs. You can’t do that against the defending state champs.”

The Lancers tried to hang around in the fourth quarter. They scored their lone TD with 3:08 left in the fourth when Kenny Jones raced in from 2 yards out. That run capped a dominant, 19-play, 83-yard drive that took nearly nine minutes.

But Central recovered the ensuing onside kick and iced the win. It sets up a huge showdown with Wheaton Warrenville South next Friday.

Not only is Central looking for a DVC title and a better playoff seed, South comes in at 4-4 and needing a win to reach the postseason. A South win would give the Tigers a share of the DVC crown.

“We’re 7-1, but we haven’t accomplished anything yet,” Clifford said. “We want to be conference champs. That’s a big goal. We knew coming into the season that we had some talent, but we had to put it together.”

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